Time to look at 2010 election primaries

Published 9:36 am Friday, May 21, 2010

About this time in any election year the two major political parties in America determine who will represent them in the November elections.

These selections are most often far more important if there is a national “mood” shift or a somehow bigger meaning than the strength of the individual candidates.

In fact the primaries are intended to allow the political parties to select their strongest candidate to defeat the opposition in the fall. That is the difference this year compared to the political norm.

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This year the only common thread so far is that the parties may not be selecting their strongest candidate, but the candidate that is closest to the views of the hardcore primary voters, who are often not so very representative of the general voters.

Consider the case of Rand Paul, the new Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky. As Mr. Paul said several times this week, the Tea Party movement is “huge” and helped him win the primary. No doubt that is an accurate assessment, and a clear reflection that the Tea Party folks are indeed conservative Republicans.

But will the Tea Party candidate, Mr. Paul, be a stronger candidate in the general election than the man he defeated in the primary, Trey Grayson? Time will tell, but Mr. Paul holds views that could be difficult for voters to accept. Paul believes the Americans with Disabilities Act should never have passed Congress. And, under very direct questions by interviewer Rachel Maddow whether government should prohibit private businesses from discriminating on the basis of race, Paul refused to give a straight answer.

Instead Paul responded that he understands racists will have boorish views but others simply need not agree with those views.

In Utah the Tea Party also played a role in the very unusual Republican primary convention that denied U.S. Senator Bennett a chance to run for re-election within the party.

Bennett has been, as is typical of Utah’s Senators, very conservative.

However, he did vote in favor of the TARP program to protect the U.S. economy. Largely, because of that vote, Mr. Bennett will not run as a Republican this year, though his re-election would have seemed secure.

Instead Utah will select their candidate for the U.S. Senate in June from two relatively unknown choices. Senator Bennett may run as an Independent.

In Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has left the Republican primary to run as a “no party affiliation” candidate in the November election for the U.S. Senate.

Although Crist polls slightly above the now anticipated Republican candidate Mario Rubio by a small margin among Florida voters, and ahead of the Democratic candidate Kendrick Meets, Republican primary voters were clearly favoring the more conservative Rubio.

Is Rubio a stronger candidate in a November general election in a state that elects moderates more than conservatives? It is a political risk, but one the primary voters ignored to pick the more conservative candidate.

In Arkansas, primary voters failed to give incumbent U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln a majority of their votes, creating a run-off with her more liberal Democratic opponent Lt. Governor Bill Halter. While either may win in November if selected, generally the incumbent gets the nod. Not this year.

Clearly the Tea Party is having an effect, but that effect seems to be creating more Independent candidates with close ties historically to the Republican Party, an omen that could result in splitting Republican votes in the fall. And the Democrats may likewise be purging some candidates who could win in November.

Apparently both parties will need reminders that the point of the primaries is to select candidates who can win elections.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.